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f50 Collins On Song


A day, a day, a Shirleyday, the second one of the year… Shirley Collins had an extra 80th birthday bash, singing in public again at last, and handing out gongs too. Elizabeth Kinder got her thoughts, while Judith Burrows went snappety snap.


on this gorgeous, unadorned sonic stream that might spring, not from her exactly but from a source somewhere in the heart of England. It’s as if she’s removed herself and somehow become a channel for that sound and that song: as if she’s just setting it free. It’s utterly enthralling to hear her sing live.


W


It’s been a terrible waste then that, by the early 1980s, Shirley was into a 30-year hiatus during which she was completely unable to sing at all – and completely bril- liant that at the recent bash at Cecil Sharp House in honour of her 80th birthday last July, that sing she did!


Ian Kearey and Shirley


hen Shirley Collins sings, this clear strong sound just flows out from her: words and melody and timelessness are carried


Asked to read from her new autobiog-


raphy All In The Downs, due out in 2016, the afternoon was in similar vein to the success- ful performances she toured with her first book America Over the Water (2004) chroni- cling her famous field trip with Alan Lomax. Only this time, significantly, accompanied by Ian Kearey on guitar, Shirley sang. Mal- colm Taylor, former head librarian of The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library asked the questions whilst Pip Barnes voiced the male characters. It was like being immersed in a warm bath of brilliance. She’s just so modest and earthy and immediately engag- ing. And her voice is as pure as it ever was, but somehow richer.


An evening performance featured Billy Bragg, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Eliza Carthy, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Jackie


Oates, Rattle On The Stovepipe and the Askew Sisters, all singing songs from Shirley’s repertoire. I was reminded of Eliza Carthy’s easy brilliance: she seems to me to share Shirley’s gift as a channel for the music. Unpretentious and grounded, in the open fiddle case beside her you caught a glimpse of her young daughters’ paintings.


Billy Bragg too was his normal excellent self whilst Wyndham-Read was a revelation to me. Though his white facial hair was more hipster than folkie, I was still prepared to be intensely irritated by the nasal singing that the sight of bearded blokes of a certain age about to perform folk songs suggests. But he sat on the chair perfectly normally (ie without turning its back to the audi- ence) and let rip into I Drew My Ship with a lovely deep, resonant voice.


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